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As WORLD celebrates its 2oth anniversary, here are some of my thoughts on some of WORLD's most memorable issues.
If one of the biggest stories in 20 years was about the Bible, our next biggest public exposure was as political as it could get. A cover feature by Bob Jones IV on Sen. John McCain's primary battle with George W. Bush in South Carolina somehow grabbed the attention of New York Times columnist William Safire. He didn't like our story a bit, and said so bluntly in a full column devoted to WORLD.
Specifically, Mr. Safire suggested that WORLD had developed a far-reaching conspiracy to derail Mr. McCain's South Carolina primary efforts. That conspiracy supposedly involved our editor in chief, because of his much earlier role as an advisor to George W. Bush. It also allegedly involved the writer of our cover story that week, Bob Jones IV, because Mr. Bush had been invited to speak at the university where Mr. Jones' father was president, while Mr. McCain had not been so invited. And the conspiracy involved WORLD's alleged decision to mail that issue of the magazine, but no others, to all 535 members of Congress and 130 pundits like himself. When Mr. Safire called me as he was preparing his column, to ask about why we had mailed that particular issue as we had, I told him that we had been mailing the magazine every week for the previous year to the two lists he mentioned-and that I would fax him postal receipts to prove it. Mr. Safire didn't seem too interested in a fact that might disprove his thesis, and ended his column by saying that WORLD represented "religio-political sleaze in action."
I saw Mr. Safire a few months ago in a Washington deli and introduced myself. He remembered his column well, he said, and wondered what effect it had had on us. "It was wonderful," I told him truthfully. "Our circulation jumped a notch or two just because of the publicity you gave us. People seemed to think if The New York Times worried about us, we must be doing something right." He laughed, wished us well, and spent the rest of his lunch reading our newest issue.
Faithful reporter of the news
In the end, WORLD is nothing if it isn't a faithful reporter of the news. We do it, of course, with a perspective and a point of view. But we're not primarily a journal of commentary and analysis. We're a newsmagazine, and you have a right to expect us to be able to say, in the words of the Apostle John: "That which we have seen and heard, that is what we declare to you."
So in these dozen issues of WORLD, how could I not include the one whose cover story may have been hardest of all to get? WORLD's current editor (and my sister-in-law), Mindy Belz, literally put her own life at risk to go deep into rebel Sudan to see for herself and then report to you on the well-being of Christians there. She found 60,000 new refugees in south Sudan, in an area the UN (at Khartoum's request) had declared a "no-go" zone. While the Islamic government raided southern homes and villages, relief groups were prohibited from aiding survivors. That story-and the cover image of one war victim long dead by the time most read it-prompted a break in the logjam as U.S. officials first contacted WORLD then moved into action. Ultimately they provided relief supplies flown in by private aid groups in spite of UN resistance.
Mindy has reported as well from Baghdad, Beijing, and Sarajevo-and other WORLD reporters similarly know what it means to do the uncomfortable thing (even asking uncomfortable questions) to be able to tell you the truth about a matter. We don't want just to rehash what we've heard from the grapevine. We've got to see and hear it for ourselves; only then are we really earning our keep.
Bigger isn't always better
It was our biggest issue ever-132 pages-but it didn't make everyone happy.
Magazines get thicker when ad sales go up, and ad sales for that particular issue were at least three times the average. Thousands of free copies of that issue were distributed at that month's gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention, a fact that schools, publishers, and others found attractive.
What's attractive for advertisers, though, isn't necessarily what makes readers feel good. And even advertisers want readers to feel good about the magazine in which those ads appear! Some folks see ads as an annoyance-especially if they interrupt the flow of their reading. Some see them as a service. If we offered an ad-free magazine, but said that would add $10 to the annual subscription price, how many readers would consider that a good tradeoff?
Those equations are complex. That's partly why it's been almost four years since you've seen such a thick edition of WORLD-an issue from which we learned important lessons. Ads may provide a little extra interest to a magazine, but we know they're not what makes WORLD WORLD. Even for the advertisers' sake, we want to keep it all in balance.
Seeking God's protection
Those are a dozen issues I really like. If I went through all 855 editions again next week, I might well select a few others instead. That's the nature of weekly journalism.
God has protected WORLD through its first 20 years. Our mistakes are listed in almost every week's issue, just as soon as they are called to our attention. But in at least 25,000 pages of coverage, no big journalistic crimes like plagiarism, nonexistent sources, and other dishonest reporting have ever been laid to our charge. My most earnest prayer is that God would be pleased to extend that record of protection in our truth-telling task for many years to come.
A look back at the key issues from . . .